- Food and Cooking
How to turn "I am not eating that" in to "I will try that" - Tips to feeding fussy eaters
When meal time is a war zone
Do you feel like you need to go to chef school? Would you rather be screamed at by Gordon Ramsey than face the family again with a meal that you've prepared?
Feeling forced to provide an “a la carte” menu at every meal, instead of having a battle of wills? Do ultimatums like “You will eat that or you will go to bed hungry!” get bandied around your table, dining room, kitchen, or even yelled down the hallway?
Meals are traditionally a communal time for the family. This time lets people get together and the meal provides important nourishment for our bodies. Mealtime always looks great on TV shows!
It's best to provide a relaxed environment at mealtimes, as this helps with digestion. Unfortunately, this time is also a catalyst to an ensuing war between you and your fussy eater. Nobody wants chaos, but it does happen – especially when you don't know the foods that your fussy eater will and will not eat.
“I swear they ate that last week,” you sigh exasperatedly, “and now they're telling me they never eat it!”
There is no formula to feeding the fussy eater. It is a process of trial and error, as you are dealing with unique individuals that have their own perceptions and feelings. Here are some suggestions to help make meal time a pleasant time for your whole family:
Option 1: Communication
Find time to sit down with your FE (Fussy Eater) and discuss what they like about food. Is it the texture? Is it the taste? If so, what flavour do they like? Do they have concerns about certain foods – for instance, do some kinds of food make them feel ill? (See allergies and intolerances) Do they feel an attachment to a certain kind of animal and don't want to eat it? Do they not want to eat animals altogether? Do they feel as though certain foods will make them fat? Do they have body image issues? Is somebody else influencing their food choices? Are they trying to take control of something in their life? This discussion with your FE may raise more questions than answers. However, the most important thing is to give you FE a chance to discuss their food preferences, and actively listening to their views. Lead with a simple question and ask follow-up questions if you need to. Seek outside help if you believe it's necessary.
Option 2: Shop and cook with the fussy eater
Take the FE shopping with you. Walk through the fresh produce section and ask them to pick out the ingredients for a healthy meal. Don't worry about a recipe at this stage. Do it like “Ready, Steady, Cook!”: Get the ingredients first, and work out what to do with them when you've gotten home. You can always google recipes later. Take note of the foods chosen and suggest others that you feel go with them, but be prepared to accept a no.
Take the ingredients home and encourage the FE to help you cook. This has a double effect – they get to learn what the food smells like before and during cooking, and they can appreciate the effort and care that goes into meal preparation. Encourage them to try some raw ingredients (where appropriate), and then what it tastes like when mixed with other flavours and cooked.
If you're thinking “But I don't possibly have the time to take my Fussy Eater shopping!”, do you really enjoy that frazzled feeling at meal times? Dropping into bed completely exhausted, and wishing you didn't have to do it again tomorrow? Be creative and make the time. If this works for you, being less exhausted and actually enjoying mealtimes is a great reward.
Option 3: Menu plan with the family
Make a menu plan for a fortnight. It may get repetitive, but this way you can recruit helpers to cook it for you when they've learned how. Make the menu with everyone's favourite dishes – meals that you know the whole family will enjoy.
Would they like to experiment with other foods? Is this easily managed? Is it within your skill to cook it? These are all good questions to discuss with your family.
Option 4: Pick your battles
Young people don't have “refined” palates, so keep their food fairly simple. If you're introducing something that you and other people with similar taste buds will enjoy, make it a side dish so that the fussy eater will have food that they enjoy, and the choice to try something new. Don't make it into a battle, as this could cement prejudices about food before a real effort at trying them has been made.
If they've eaten and don't want dessert, don't worry – more for you!
Minimise snacking before dinner – particularly things that are high in salt, fats, and sugars, as these make enjoying the actual meal difficult.
Avoid serving soft drink with meals, as the refined sugars in the drink will ruin flavour of the natural sugars in most meals.
Option 5: Intolerance and Allergies
Take your fussy eater's dislike seriously. It could be the start of a food allergy or intolerance, as not all foods cause immediate and obvious symptoms. For instance, gluten intolerance can cause bloating, lethargy and cramps.
Get it checked out.
Some people with autism have food issues along with behavioural issues, however- they also show some truly inspiring gifts.
Maybe your Fussy Eater has eaten too much during the day, or maybe they're coming down with an illness.
Option 6: Age appropriate
Toddlers have just learned to get around under their own steam after all the time they've been dependent on their parents to carry them around. They don't grow as quickly as when they were a baby, but they do use a lot of energy from constantly being on the go. To preserve your sanity, adopt a grazing rule for them. Let them eat when they're hungry. Have sultanas, dry biscuits, rice crackers, unflavoured corn chips, or anything else you can think of handy for them to eat throughout the day. Do get them to sit at the table and try to introduce meat, veggies, and rice into their diet. Be prepared that whatever you give them will need to be cleaned up off the floor!
Set up a fruit platter on a solid surface (for ease of cleaning) and let them go for it.
Offer them a bowl of cooled steamed veggies and encourage them to try everything.
Remember that your toddler's tummy is only about the size of their own fist. That's pretty small, so don't be too alarmed if they don't eat heaps in one sitting.
Option 7: Consider what you are serving
If you're constantly serving meals from a can, your kids will feel like they're front line soldiers on rations and will behave as such. If the food is claggy and you need a fifth of vodka to get it down, chances are everyone else eating it will want the same courtesy. You don't need to enrol in chef school to become a good cook. There are some great, simple recipes for people on a budget online. You can find some excellent ones if you check out the following links: